Let’s Do It Again (1975)

Article 4336 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-14-2013
Directed by Sidney Poitier
Featuring Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Calvin Lockhart
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

When they discover that their fraternal order will be evicted from their current location, two members hatch a scheme to raise the money by going to New Orleans and fixing a fight.

This is the middle of a loose trilogy of movies made during the seventies that starred Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier; the two actors appear to be playing different characters in each movie, so they really aren’t sequels in anything but spirit. This one takes a basic updating of the “Amos and Andy” concept and mixes it with a plot that one might expect from a Bowery Boys movie. No, it doesn’t really sound promising, but the chemistry between the two stars is palpable, Poitier’s direction is sound, all the acting is solid (including the performance of Jimmie Walker), and everyone seems to be having fun. The fantastic content involves the use of hypnotism as the method of making the fighters act out of character; I don’t think that element exists in the other movies of the trilogy, so I most likely won’t be covering them. The movie could have used a little pruning here and there; at 110 minutes, it’s too long to really support the slightness of the plot. Nevertheless, it’s a solid and entertaining mid-seventies comedy, with nice character touches to add to the mix.

The Last Shark (1981)

aka Great White, L’ultimo squalo
Article 4332 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-10-2013
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Featuring James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micaela Pignatelli
Country: Italy
What it is: Recycled JAWS

A coastal community is threatened by a shark. Several people try to kill it.

You know, it seems to me that if you’re going to try to tempt a 28 foot long great white shark with a big chunk of meat hanging from a helicopter, you’d better have it set up so you can detach it quickly if the shark proves too much for you. And that’s the main lesson I learned from this, one of the most notorious rip-offs of Spielberg’s original movie; this one steals so much from the original story that it lost a suit from Universal, forcing it to be yanked from theaters. James Franciscus plays Roy Scheider, and Vic Morrow plays Robert Shaw. In all honesty, it doesn’t completely lift everything from its model; the movie does come up with at least one subplot involving two movie men trying to cash in on the shark’s presence by shooting as much footage as they can. Personally, I think a movie that had made that aspect the center of the story could have made some interesting comments about sensationalism and the media. Beyond that and the fact that the movie provides a few campy moments, there’s little to recommend here.

Lisa and the Devil (1973)

aka House of Exorcism, Lisa e il diavolo
Article 4329 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2013
Directed by Mario Bava and Alfredo Leone
Featuring Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina
Country: Italy / West Germany / Spain
What it is: Tale of the supernatural

A woman gets lost in a foreign city, and ends up staying with a strange family in a creepy home. And this family has its share of skeletons in its closet…

This movie came into my list under the alternate title THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. I was originally going to watch a copy of the movie under that title that I had, but the print was in such poor shape that I opted to watch a streaming rental of it instead, and because I’d heard in advance of the compromises made to the movie in its initial release, I opted for the original version titled LISA AND THE DEVIL. For the record, the original movie was unable to find a distributor, and so footage was added to turn it into a “possession by the devil” movie similar to THE EXORCIST; it was that version that was released as THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. For the record, I’m glad that I did; I don’t see how possession footage added to his movie would have done anything more than render it a piece of tripe.

Not that I find the original movie to be perfect; after a creepy opening section, I find much of the first half of the movie to be a little on the dull side, and the title character (Lisa, not the devil) is one of those characters whose sole purpose seems to scream when necessary; if her situation wasn’t nightmarishly captivating and she wasn’t easy on the eyes, I’d have no interest in her at all. However, the nightmare she is going through is indeed fascinating; some of the secrets and events are truly grotesque and even perverse. Then there’s an amazing performance from Telly Savalas, who, though on the surface appears as the family’s manservant, is probably the other title character (the devil, not Lisa). His reactions are unexpected, often humorous, and quite unsettling. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from him. The whole story itself is made from some very familiar elements, but they’re assembled in a creative way, and I like the movie enough that I’ll even forgive it’s rather pat final twist. I’m really glad I opted for this original version.

Les lunatiques (1908)

aka The Whimsical People
Article 4308 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Bizarre trick film

A woman on the moon plucks stars out of the skies to create clowns, but when she overloads the moon, they fall to earth and turn into dancing girls… and then things start to get weird.

Here’s another of Segundo de Chomon’s forays into the world of the surreal, though its extensive use of blackface in the final scenes renders it politically incorrect by today’s tastes. It’s also a bit reminiscent of Melies’s OFF TO BLOOMINGDALE ASYLUM in some ways, but it’s not the first time Chomon has borrowed from Melies. It’s only mildly amusing, but I do have to admit I was surprised to discover that when I checked the the French title in a translator online, it was identical to the English title; I would have expected it to translate as THE MADMEN.

Law and Order (1950)

Article 4294 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-22-2013
Directed by Eddie Donnelly
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

A gang of cats is capturing mice and turning them into mousicles for sale. Can Mighty Mouse come to their rescue?

This is one of the non-operatic Mighty Mouse cartoons, which means it’s mostly about Mighty Mouse fighting some evil cats to save a bunch of mice. This is one of those cartoons that illustrates why Terrytoons remained a second-tier animation company. It has plenty of gags, but executes them weakly and without imagination. It also wastes opportunities; though the cartoon is framed in the device of being presented as a radio show, the cartoon does absolutely nothing with the idea. This one feels as if it was churned out with very little care to fill a quota. It may be one of the weakest Mighty Mouse cartoons I’ve seen.

A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907)

Article 4238 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2013
Directed by J. Searle Dawley and Edwin S. Porter
Featuring Gitchner Hartman, Mr. Lehapman, Bessie Schrednecky
Country: USA
What it is: Christmas fantasy

A young boy from a well-to-do family befriends a young girl from a poverty-stricken household, and discovers that the girl does not believe in Santa Claus because the latter has never visited her at Christmas. The boy decides to fix that problem by taking Santa prisoner and forcing him to deliver presents to the young girl.

You know, underneath the fantasy veneer of this silent short, there is a real attempt to generate compassion for the poor and down-trodden, which I find commendable. However, the way this particular short addresses the issue is rather problematic. The fact that a poverty-stricken young girl might have a much bigger problem believing in that generous supernatural entity than a young boy who grows up in prosperous surroundings makes a certain amount of sense, but only if you ground it in the assumption that said supernatural entity indeed does not exist. That is counter to the assumption this short makes that he does exist, and the central question that arises from this assumption – namely, why does Santa ignore the young girl in his annual gift delivery? – is never addressed. Is the girl naughty? If not (and the short gives us no reason to believe that she is naughty), why does he ignore her? The short gives no answer to this question. Yes, I may be over-analyzing the one a bit, but nonetheless, these are the thoughts that popped into my mind while watching it, and they did cloud my enjoyment of the short. Yet I do have to give the short some credit for having enough of a plot to lend itself to this analysis; after all, I’ve seen quite a few silent shorts from the period that offer me far less material for any such consideration.

The Little Match Seller (1902)

Article 4211 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-24-2013
Directed by James Williamson
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Christmas tear-jerker

A young girl who sells matches is left alone and freezing outside of a shop window. She lights the matches and sees visions of Christmas in the window.

I don’t remember ever seeing any versions of this story during the Christmas season when I was a kid. But then, I think there’s a reason for that; this is easily the most depressing Christmas story I know of. Yes, it could be argued that it does have a happy ending, but it’s not one that leaves you with one shred of warmth to your fellow man in this world. The special effects consist of mostly the visions of Christmas in the window, and they’re pretty basic. However, my favorite effect is towards the end of the story, when a policeman shines a flashlight; it’s obvious that the light projected is a special effect rather than an emanation from the flashlight, and gives the movie an interesting texture. It’s effective enough, but, by the very nature of the story, it’s certainly not very cheery.